Facebook Portal isn’t something new, but it also hasn’t been the most popular smart home device. In a strange turn of events, the COVID-19 pandemic has actually helped boost the sales of Portal devices. While the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t helped many businesses, Facebook’s goal of bringing people closer together while social distancing is helping the social media giant.
Facebook Portal Didn’t Go Over Well at First
You might have seen a few ads for the Facebook Portal. The tablet-sized device lets you video chat with others all over the world, search for things, and much more. Think of it much like an Echo Show, but Facebook’s version. No one’s probably surprised that it didn’t initially go over well. With one privacy issue after another, who would dare want a camera backed by Facebook sitting in their living room, kitchen, and/or bedroom?
Even with all of the social platform privacy issues aside, Portal has had major problems since it was released. One example is Jane Manchun Wong being able to add some of Mark Zuckerberg’s profile album pictures to her own Superframe, which is Portal’s screensaver photo feature. You’re only supposed to be allowed to use images from your own account. Facebook’s response was that it’s not really a serious security problem.
As of late 2019, Facebook Portal sales were abysmal. Facebook didn’t even order large quantities of components as even the company didn’t seem to fully believe in it. Rakuten’s sales tracking shows that Portal devices only account for 0.6 percent of all smart speakers and just 3.9 percent of speakers with screens.
COVID-19 Helped Boost Portal Sales
How have things suddenly turned around for Facebook Portal sales? The company went from low sales to one model being completely sold out. The reason: COVID-19. Portal TV, which retails for $149, is currently sold out. Part of the appeal is it’s a box that connects to your existing TV. Instead of just a small screen to look at, you’re video chatting on your big-screen TV.
It’s a great family-friendly option as well. Being able to use fun filters makes kids giggle and might make them feel closer to relatives they can’t see right now. For instance, a grandmother might tell a bedtime story while wearing a silly, virtual mask for effect.
Another thing that’s likely helping is people who already have an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker don’t want to buy a video version of either. Plus, neither brand offers a TV attachment to let their TVs become a screen for their smart speaker. Since Portal is Amazon Alexa-compatible and uses Alexa as the voice assistant, it’s a good addition to homes already using Alexa.
Things You Might Not Know About Facebook Portal
Overall, the Portal line has some competitive devices. With three Portals with screens ranging from eight inches to 15.6 inches, there’s a size to fit everyone. Of course, Portal TV uses any size TV screen if you’d rather see friends and family on an almost life-sized screen. The biggest issue comes down to privacy, which isn’t exactly something you get from Amazon or Google either.
But before you discount Facebook Portal completely, it’s worth taking a quick look at some of the features you might not know about, such as:
- Works as a picture frame for all your Facebook albums.
- Storytelling feature, complete with fun AR masks.
- Uses Amazon Alexa as the virtual assistant.
- Contact others that have a Portal device, smartphone, or tablet. (Non-Portal users will need WhatsApp or Messenger, though.)
- Camera follows you while you’re on a call and even zooms in or out as others enter or leave the room.
- Includes a physical button to turn off both the camera and mic when not in use (surprising privacy feature).
- Microphone helps reduce background noise.
Is a Facebook Portal right for you? Are you worrying about your data and privacy? Right now, far more people are trying out these devices than in the time since the Portal line launched in 2018. Thanks to special discounts due to COVID-19, now is also a good time to compare the features to see if it’s competitive enough to choose over similar smart speaker video devices.